My favourite travelogue is a book by Belgian-American writer Luc Sante that I came across while researching my own latest book. I was looking for books, in English, on Belgium, a country that I lived in between 2009 and 2012, but that contemporary history and literature appears to have been consigned to the margins of the mainstream. If anything, Belgium tends to be dismissed as boring, and damned as insignificant. But having developed a fascination that led to affection for this country, I was mesmerised by Sante’s The Factory of Facts. The book sees Sante travel into his own past and family, as much as he does across Belgium. This is therefore a travelogue as personal history. But in piecing together the complex of stories, mentalities and moments that went into the making of his ‘self’, he also cleverly uncovers the irreducible nature of Belgium and the traumas that define it, even today. There is great insight here into the history, art, language, and personality of this rather ‘odd’ country, which has existed in various geographical avatars over the ages, split and stitched up again with blood-soaked regularity. Not a straightforward travelogue, The Factory of Facts is the kind of genre-bending read that transforms travel writing into literature.

Pallavi Aiyar is a writer and journalist whose latest book is Punjabi Parmesan: Dispatches From a Europe in Crisis


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